Redeeming the ‘Human’ in Human Rights for Thai Farmers in Israel. What is the value of portraying ‘natural right’ as an account of the world vs. a project to be realized? A case study on Thai agricultural workers in Israel. A Talk by Jasmine Chia (Young Scholars Series)


Thai Farm Workers in Israel
(Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz for Haaretz).


Our age is an age defined by the movements of bodies across borders, driven by war, genocide,  economic pressures and new technological possibilities. The regime of global migration has revealed the fundamental contradictions in our governing ideologies, in particular the doctrine of universal liberalism that still serves us today in the form of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). As anthropologist Talal Asad pointed out, the universal liberalism of the modern West declares that rights are “natural”, yet only under the subjective authority of the state can these rights be actualized. This is a truth that migrant workers live and negotiate, as citizens of one state governed by the subjective authority of another. It is in that context that approximately 23,000 Thai farm workers in Israel navigate the complex language of liberalism and rights – a space that brings the subjectivity of the concept of ‘natural right’ into sharp relief, on the fringes of state authority and citizenship, and literally on the fringes of Israeli society. Across Israel, Thai migrant workers inhabit an insulated world almost completely separate from Israeli life, eating Thai food, spending time with other Thai workers, and rarely having the means or the opportunity to leave their moshavs during their five-year stay. This social insulation leads to Thai migrant workers becoming deeply enmeshed in a larger political conversation on the natural rights of migrant workers, and claiming rights on particular issues and not others, as they move between contrasting concepts of liberalism. This discussion explores the value, and danger, of invocations of liberalism and ‘natural right’ through the case of Thai agricultural labor in Israel.

Ms. Jasmine Chia is a former Henry Rosovsky fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, conducting research at Harvard into Government and Religion. Her research has been supported in fellowship and funding capacities by the Asia Center, the Thai Studies program, the South Asia Institute, the Saloma Fund, the Harvard College Research Program, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Center for the Study of World Religions at the Harvard Divinity School. She has published articles in The Diplomat, the Harvard International Review and the Asian Correspondent, and is a regular columnist for the Bangkok Post.

*The Young Scholar Lecture series by the Siam Society is initiated to encourage young writers and researches and help give encouragement and exposure to their work in Thai Studies. This is a much needed assistance because the government gives very little if any support for research let alone research by young scholars in the field of Art and Culture. Many of these young scholars like young artists will go on to produce their masterpieces in the future. The Siam Society is proud to be able to fill this much needed gap through initiating The Young Scholar Lecture Series.

Date: Thursday, 23 August 2018
Time: 7.30 p.m.
Place: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21

Non-members donation: B200. Siam Society members, members’ spouses and children, and all students showing valid student ID cards are admitted free of charge. For more information, please contact Khun Arunsri or

Office Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9:00am. – 5:00pm.

The Siam Society is deeply grateful to the James H.W. Thompson Foundation for its generous support of the 2018-2019 Lecture Series.